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Mazatlán Carnival – The World’s third largest carnival celebration!
February 20th 2020
February 25th, 2020
- 1 What is carnival in Mazatlán?
- 2 When is the Mazatlán Carnival?
- 3 Where is Mazatlán Carnival?
- 4 How do they celebrate Mazatlán Carnival?
- 5 What is the History of Mazatlán Carnival?
- 6 Mazatlán Carnival Music – The Carnival of Brass Bands
- 7 The Inaugural Parade
- 8 The Second Parade
- 9 Mazatlán Carnival at Night – Olas Altas Party Zone
- 10 The Floral Games
- 11 Carnival Royalty
- 12 Coronation of the Carnival King
- 13 Carnival Queen Coronation’s
- 14 Naval Combat Fireworks
- 15 The Burning of the Bad Humour
- 16 Mazatlán Carnival Events Schedule
- 17 Mazatlán Carnival Tickets?
- 18 Mazatlán Carnival Tips
- 19 How to get to Mazatlán Carnival?
- 20 Where to stay for Mazatlán Carnival?
- 21 What to do in Mazatlán
What is carnival in Mazatlán?
Mazatlán Carnival or Carnaval de Mazatlán is a pre-Lenten carnival celebration that is now celebrating its 122nd year. It takes place every year in the five days preceding Lent as is the most anticipated event of the year! Mazatlán Carnival claims to be the third largest carnival in the world with well over a million people heading to the city, to celebrate carnival. There is no other carnival in the world that celebrates like Mazatlán who is known for its abundance of brass bands.
Mazatlán Carnival is without a doubt one of the most unique and vibrant celebrations in all of Mexico and absolutely worth experiencing. Despite the fact that Mazatlán is a popular international tourist destination almost the majority of the people attending carnival are from Mexico. The locals say that carnival is part of their DNA and that carnival runs through their veins. Work and school come to a halt during carnival so that everyone can be swept up in the carnival spirit.
An old saying is that “in Mazatlán, time is measured by Carnival“. Mazatlán Carnival is a festival of the people! While some carnivals are about drunkenness and debauchery, that is not what Mazatlán Carnival is about. Of course you will see that going on, but carnival in Mazatlán is an intergenerational family affair! The locals take pride in the fact that the Carnival King is often just an ordinary guy from the barrio who labours for a living.
When is the Mazatlán Carnival?
The dates for 2020 Carnival in Mazatlán begins on Thursday 20th February and finishes on Shrove Tuesday which is the 25th February, 2020. However, you can feel the party atmosphere kicking in a few days before the official start of carnival.
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Where is Mazatlán Carnival?
Mazatlán is located in the Mexican state of Sinaloa and situated on the Pacific Coast and runs parallel to the southern tip of Baja California peninsula. Mazatlán is a popular tourist destination for North Americans because of its warm climate, gorgeous sandy beaches and historical colonial towns. All of this makes celebrating carnival in Mazatlán an excellent choice!
How do they celebrate Mazatlán Carnival?
This merry Mexican carnival is celebrated in the five days prior to Ash Wednesday. One of its main features is the abundance of brass bands as well as the sounds of Tambora music that fill the air, and can be heard day and night all over the city for the duration of carnival.
In addition to the excess of traditional live music, Mazatlán Carnival has colourful parades, fireworks, awards for poetry, art and literature, carnival royalty coronations. The party atmosphere fills overtakes the whole city, and everyone gives in to enjoying the sensation of excess. All the streets of Mazatlán are transformed into a sea of people drinking, socialising and dancing the night away to all the different bands that line the Malecon.
Mazatlán Carnival is a holiday period for the local people which means that the carnival celebrations go all day and night. Because it is an intergenerational family celebration you will see grandparents out with children, teenagers and adults of all ages.
A few weeks before Mazatlán Carnival officially starts about 10 giant multi-coloured carnival figurines called Monigotes are paraded along the Maelcon and are based on the current years theme.
What is the History of Mazatlán Carnival?
The origins of Mazatlán Carnival are as old as the city itself with historians noting that mid-winter celebrations used to occur all the time in the city and that many traditions came from the natives. It wasn’t until the 1800s when carnival in Mazatlán was first documented by the early settlers.
The first documentation occurred in 1827 by Captain Juan Antonio Muñoz. According to chronicles on Shrove Tuesday masked costumers would parade throughout Mazatlán telling jokes, singing songs and throwing flour around.
In 1898 Mazatlán Carnival became a more official week-long multi-event celebration. It saw its first street procession featuring chariots and bicycles. As well as the first official crowning of a king and queen and numerous social events and balls.
History notes that prior to 1898 carnival celebrations were vulgar and informal. People threw flour, eggshells, ashes, dyes and even rocks at each other and would hurl insults at each other. The idea was for the parade to eradicate the flour throwing and replace it with confetti.
What makes Mazatlán Carnival so unique is that its original character has changed very little since 1898. It is still celebrated pretty much the same way today, as it was back in its early days.
Mazatlán Carnival Music – The Carnival of Brass Bands
What so unique about the Mazatlán Carnival is that the carnival is famous for its abundance of brass bands and live music known as Banda Music. For the entire duration of carnival there is an abundance of brass bands playing all up and down the sidewalks. The majority of concerts and music events occur along the Malecon at Olas Atlas Beaches, and in the Centro Historic adjacent to it.
Huge crowds of people move slowly up and down the boardwalk listening to all the different bands playing live music. There is literally a new band to discover and listen to every few meters along the boardwalk and they play every night during carnival week from 6pm until 4am.
One of the things that distinguishes the Mazatlán Carnival from other carnivals around the world is the regional Tambora music that is a heavy feature of this carnival. The musical style originated in the Sinaloa state in what is called “the grupero wave”.
This music was originally brought to Mexico by German immigrants who came to Mazatlán. The German style of music combined with the local music creating a unique sound and genre that has transcended the world.
The Inaugural Parade
The Inaugural Parade is without a doubt the absolute highlight of carnival. It is not only the favourite event of carnival but also the most iconic and anticipated one. It occurs along the famous Malecon over an 11km stretch.
The parade leaves Fishermen’s Monument and heads north at 5:30pm continuing to Valentino’s and finishes at about 10pm. A pre-parade departs about 4:30pm, which sees commercial floats tossing out freebies to the crowd.
The parade occurs not just once but twice! The main parade is held on Sunday, which is the more popular parade where the whole family comes out to enjoy and then again on Tuesday which turns into a crazy party because it is the last eventing of allowed partying before Lent starts.
The Inaugural Parade sees about 300,000 spectators come out to watch and while it is packed it is not quite as crowded as the Naval Fireworks. The parade features different sections with about 40 elaborately decorated themed floats, thousands of dancers and musicians as well as past and present carnival royalty.
People will stake out their spots along the Malecon about 2-4 days ahead of time, and stay 24 hours a day to guard their space. There are many hotels that rent seats along the route, or book your accommodation or join a friend in one of the many hotels and condo buildings along the route to get a good view. The parade route becomes a big party in the days leading up to the parade.
The Second Parade
The second and final parade of carnival takes place on Shrove Tuesday and marks the beginning of the end of the Mazatlán Carnival. The parade flows along the Malecon from the Centro Historic to Valentinos. Following the parade is an epic party filled with loads of revelry that continues long into the night, and it is the last chance to do so before Lent begins.
To see the floats in a more casual and relaxed setting, head to the Malecon north of the Sea Lion Statue on Shrove Tuesday anytime from about 1-4:30pm when the second parade begins. It is a prime chance to get some good photos, you will see the dancers getting ready and royalty boarding floats. The parade is not as crowded as the one on Sunday so there is more space to set up a chair along the parade route.
Mazatlán Carnival at Night – Olas Altas Party Zone
Mazatlán Carnival is a very family-friendly carnival, but it is still full of parties and celebrations! During the day you can chill on the beach or check out a cultural event. But when its night time everyone hits up the Malecon in the Party Zone in Olas Altas. Entry to the zone is free and you can then party from dusk till dawn. You haven’t experienced Mazatlán Carnival until you’ve danced the night away in the party zone!
The boardwalk is not just lined with the bands but there is also plenty of food and beer vendors. People congregate around the live bands, grab a few tacos and beers and just enjoy the party. The beer flows freely during carnival, same with the margarita’s, which are poured by the litre. There is a great atmosphere, everyone is in a good mood and everyone is having fun!
The Floral Games
Mazatlán Carnival includes several cultural activities that aim to show off the artistic quality of the locals. There are unique carnival events like poetry contests and literature awards. There is even an award for the best literary work published in Mexico that year. The literary award is very prestigious with many famous authors amongst the past winters.
One of the most famous features of Mazatlán Carnival is the Floral Games. The Floral Games is a poetry and literature contest that started back in 1925. It got its name because the winners were originally awarded with flowers as a prize. It receives a huge amount of entries and contestants with the best ‘flowery verse’ are awarded prizes.
Mazatlán Carnivals has five recurring Royal Carnival Characters that preside over the carnival. This includes the King of Carnival, King of Madness, The Carnival Queen, The Queen of the Floral Games and the Children’s Queen.
The crowning of the carnival royalty are big events that takes place in the Mazatlán city baseball stadium in front of huge crowds. Interestingly the Kings of Carnival are distinguished as being satirical royals whereas the Carnival Queens are meant to be elegant and graceful characters.
The Carnival Queen is chosen before the carnival celebrations begin and is usually selected through beauty contests and the runner up becomes the Queen of the Floral Games. Contrary to popular belief the Queen of the Floral Games is a very important position and not just runner up the Queen of Carnival.
Coronation of the Carnival King
The Coronation of the Carnival King is much less pomp and circumstance than the coronation of the queens. But it is just as much fun, and a hell of a lot rowdier! It is free to attend and features some awesome dancing, video effects, epic fireworks which is followed by an exceptional concert.
The concert attracts a huge crowd and we recommend bringing a seat and even a cooler of beer if you wish, although there will be plenty of vendors. Dress casual, wear closed in shoes and bring a jacket as the Malecon can get cool and breezy at night.
Carnival Queen Coronation’s
You absolutely must attend the coronation of one of the queens! Besides a world-class concert there is also spirited and colourful dancing by local children and professionals with some epic fireworks. We recommend attending the Coronation of the Queen of the Floral Games or even the Child Queen Coronation because it frees up your Saturday night to watch the fireworks and the burning of the burning of the bad mood.
It’s almost impossible to make it to both the Saturday coronation and then make it to Olas Altas in time for the fireworks, due to the huge traffic jams that are experienced during carnival, as well as the time needed to pass through security to enter the carnival zone. The Queen Coronations require tickets.
While people dress casually for the carnival king coronation they dress very nicely for the Queen Coronations! Take a jacket as the stadium can get cold at night. There will be plenty of vendors around selling food and drinks and you can always bring binoculars for a better view.
The Naval Combat Fireworks is one of the most popular events of the Mazatlán Carnival. It takes place on Carnival Saturday (the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday) at Olas Atlas. This event is a huge over the top extravagant firework display. It is the most crowded event of carnival with over 500,000 people attending in a pretty cramped part of town, so if you don’t like crowds, then stay away!
The display has historical implications that date back to when a French naval ship tried to invade Mazatlán but weren’t successful as the residents of Mazatlán fought back and held off the attack. Along with the firework display there is also a “Naval Combat” that re-enacts the battle that took place. The “Naval Combat” is an absolute highlight and best seen from the roof of a house.
The Burning of the Bad Humour
We encourage you to turn up early to the fireworks and watch the Burning of the Bad Humour. This little talked about event is a lot of fun and totally worth attending! It’s a Mexican tradition to burn a giant puppet that has been filled with firecrackers. The effigy is generally modelled after an unpopular public figure from the previous year. The puppet is first hanged, then burnt, which is done with the belief that it will banish all the ill-feeling out of Mazatlán!
Mazatlán Carnival Events Schedule
The following dates at this stage are only guidelines and will be updated when the official dates are released, but the carnival generally follows these events at the same time.
- Thursday 20th February, 2- 7pm: Muestra Gastronomica Food Festival at Plaza Machado
- Thursday 20th February, 7:30pm: Masquerade Ball Baile de Fantasia
- Thursday 20th February, 7:30pm: Coronation of the King of Joy at Paseo Claussen
- Friday 21st February, 8:30pm: Floral Games at Venados Stadium
- Saturday 22nd February, 6:30pm: Carnival Queen Coronation at Venados Stadium
- Saturday 22nd February, 8:00pm: Bad Mood Burning at Olas Atas Beach Malecon
- Saturday 22nd February,10:30pm: Naval Combat Fireworks at Olas Atlas Malecon
- Sunday 23rd February, 5:30pm: Inaugural Parade at Olas Atlas Malecon
- Monday 24th February, 10:00am: Children’s Dance at Salon Espectacular
- Monday 24th February, 6:30pm: Coronation of the Child Queen at Venados Stadium
- Monday 24th February, 10:00pm: Festival of Lights Fireworks along the Malecon
- Tuesday 25th February, 4:30pm: Second Parade from the Aquarium south along the Malecon
Mazatlán Carnival Tickets?
There are several free events like the parades, street celebrations, firework celebrations and live music. However, you must buy tickets to any masquerade balls and any events held at the stadium like the royal coronations and the Floral Games.
To purchase tickets to major Mazatlán Carnival events can be done at the Angela Peralta ticket offices, whose hours are from 9am until 3pm and then from 5pm till 7pm. It can also be done at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal/Venados Stadium and will be available after New Year. There is also a ticket office in the Centro Historico and prices will be made available closer to the event.
Mazatlán Carnival Tips
- Because Mazatlán Carnival is a party for all ages, enjoy yourself and have a good time but be aware that this carnival is different to a lot of others where it’s just lots of wild partying and drinking. If that’s the carnival experience you are after maybe try another carnival. Mazatlán Carnival is about being part of a tradition that is shared amongst generations.
- You must book your accommodation well in advance! Because accommodation gets booked up months in advance!
- We recommend you dress casual, wear good shoes, avoid jewellery and at night bring a jacket or jumper because it may be chilly.
- Leave your valuables at the hotel and don’t bring a lot of cash with you because there are pickpockets and its very crowded so it’s easy to pickpocket.
- When attending the parades you can buy little wooden fold up chairs for a few dollars from vendors. Other options to watch the parade are on some hotel balconies.
- Expect huge crowds and loud music, if this doesn’t seem like your thing, then maybe this isn’t the carnival for you.
- To see the fireworks we recommend arriving early in Olas Altas around 5-6pm and find a seat on the Malecon You will have to take turns with friends to go to bathroom or get drinks to maintain your prime seating. You can also secure some seats on one of the many party boats that head out into the bay to watch the fireworks. Plenty of hotels offer reservations to view the fireworks. But also you could book accommodation that offers a view.
How to get to Mazatlán Carnival?
Mazatlán Airport is located 20km south of Mazatlán if you are coming internationally. It is also possible to catch a flight to San Diego where you can easily get a Greyhound bus down to Mazatlán.
Where to stay for Mazatlán Carnival?
There are plenty of hotels, hostels, guest houses and apartment rentals for all budgets. If you want to stay close to the action, we recommend you stay near the Malecon. The hotels that are located on Avenida del Mar are the most popular for their views of the parade. Also popular is accommodation near Olas Altas because of its close proximity to the action. But there are plenty of good options in the historic centre or in the surroundings of Mazatlán.
Remember that this carnival is very popular attracting around 1.3 million people so book early for the best prices and availability.
Check out some accommodation options here.
What to do in Mazatlán
Mazatlán, has pretty much everything you could want, a year-round warm climate, miles of sandy beaches, delicious cuisine, a gorgeously restored colonial old town, natural attractions, excellent nightlife, top-quality seafood and the friendliest locals. People love Mazatlán because it combines the beach with the incredible architecture and cultural richness of its historic downtown.
If you want you can have a carnival experience that sees you laying on the beach all day and then partying all night long, this is the carnival for you. You can stroll through Centro Historico and admire the significant and historic buildings. You can climb up the famous lighthouse El Faro, and watch daredevil cliff divers throw themselves into the waves. Go on a day trip to one of Mazatlán’s three picturesque islands. Or take part in an array of water sports from kayaking to snorkelling.
For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.
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